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36 years have passed since San Diego State student Cara Knott was killed by a CHP officer

The murder of the 20-year-old student made headlines and changes in the time needed to file a missing person's case with police.

SAN DIEGO — It was 36 years ago, when a CHP officer killed San Diego State Student Cara Knott.  

Cara Knott’s body was found in a deserted area off the Old Highway 395 bridge. The 20-year-old had called her parents saying she was leaving her boyfriend’s house in Escondido. She stopped to put gas in her car then drove on I-15 toward her home in El Cajon. But she never made it.

"You're heart is fractured. There’s just no words. The pain will be with all of us the rest of our lives," Cara sister, Cynthia Knot said. "Looking for her all night long, up and down the freeways."

Cynthia Knott recalls how she felt seeing her sister’s 1968 VW Beetle. 

"It was like being in a tomb, deathly, earie the worst gut-wrenching feeling when we saw her car, it was like nothing I can ever describe, we knew she was gone," she said.

Two and a half weeks later, police arrested Officer Craig Peyer, a 13-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol.  

"She did everything right and she was pulled over by a CHP officer directed off the highway to a cul-de-sac and he took out a rope out of his trunk walked up to her, hit her with a flashlight, knocking her down, wrapping a rope around her neck strangling her until she was dead," said Paul Pfingst a former prosecutor. "(He) put her on his patrol car and dumped it off the bridge 100 feet into a ravine."

Peyer was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life. 

"The sense of betrayal especially among women in San Diego was like anything I have seen or heard of before or since then. It was extraordinary," Pfingst said.

The murder led to changes orchestrated by Knott’s father Sam.  

"The first thing he did was change the 48 hour waiting period to file a missing person’s report if you were 18 or older, eliminating that," said Knott. 

The night Cara didn’t return home, the Knott’s tried to get help from police, but not enough time had passed. Sam Knott died in 2000. "

"From that day on Sam Knott began to die from his little girl’s death and ultimately he died on I-15 overlooking the spot where his daughter’s body was dumped by a CHP officer into a ravine," Pfingst said. "It’s the most incredible story I have ever been a part of."

Peyer has been denied parole but will get another chance in 2027. 

"As long as there is a breath in my body I will fight for keeping the monster in prison and my dad’s memory and my sister’s memory," Knott said.

Watch Related: The murder of Cara Knott: 36 years later - a look back from the CBS 8 archives

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